Sunday, August 31, 2008

I Wanna Hold You Till the Fear In Me Subsides

Blicky's food hadn't been touched in over a week, so my first thought was coyotes. Luckily, Blicky had merely been flown down by private jet to a high-level, emergency strategy meeting/cuddle session with Karl Rove. It seems they had a lot of work to do after the resounding success of Obama's acceptance speech at the Democratic National Convention on Thursday. They worked long into the night sometimes laughing, sometimes crying, sometimes listening to Dan Hill golden oldies. 

I don't know what exactly transpired but I found this memo in Blicky's handwriting crumpled in the recycling bin. I think this is Blicky's contribution to the Rove action plan for the remaining campaign season:
  • Meow take over world meow,
  • Instruct major networks to dismiss questions about Palin's child/grandchild, McCain's tasteless, sexist comments about his wife, and inappropriate joke about Chelsea Clinton and Janet Reno,
  • Instruct network media to place their heads directly in front of the politicians during convention speeches so they can better stick to plot lines.
  • Instruct media to make the coverage about the Clintons and the Hillary supporters rather than the issues.
  • Remind news media that only republicans can be religious, war heros or true patriots.
  • Think of more reasons why the Obamas are scary, meow.
Daddy Kitty had a very well-written comment posted in the comments of NY Times Frank Rich's recent critique of election coverage. "Regarding McCain's selection of Mrs. Palin, it is a cynical choice designed to attract middle class white voters, not just women. Get ready for the Chevy-like commercials featuring Palin and her hard-working, regular guy husband who embodies family values and epitomizes all that is good and noble about American manhood. It will play well in the Heartland and elsewhere. Biden was hired to go after this demographic, but once again Rove attacks a perceived Democratic strength."

Sunday, August 24, 2008

A Good Meal With Umberto Eco...

The difference between reading popular fiction and a really well crafted novel is like being accustomed to eating dry pasta with a jarred sauce --maybe even a really good, organic jarred sauce-- and someone serves you homemade gnocchi with a good authentic bolognese and sprinkles fresh parmigiano over the top. Then they light a candle and offer you a nice wine from the Gallo Nero region. The latter option is a lot of work for one meal. It takes a lot of energy, so maybe you have to pay a lot at a restaurant or do all the work yourself. 

I feel the same way when I read Umberto Eco. I never relax when I read his work. He doesn't create images that wash over me. There are so many subtle flavors and sensations in his work that you almost emerge feeling nourished in some way. Like many other great contemporary writers, his prose style invokes the visual arts and the ephemeral rhythms of music.

When I started reading the Mysterious Flame of Queen Loana it felt like work. The protagonist, Yambo, a 60-year-old rare book dealer from Milan, wakes up in a hospital with no memory of his life. All he can remember are phrases from everything he has read or songs he has heard and he must sift through old journals and books in his boyhood home in order to reconstruct his life. I thought I was in for a frustrating story about memory loss. What I am gaining instead (I still haven't finished) is an amazing portrait, reconstructed through great literature, popular songs, news reports and comic books, of a generation. The aspect of the book that has been haunting me lately is where he describes the schizophrenic aspect of the boyhood experience he is unearthing. He hears patriotic calls to war in the fascist anthems, while the popular songs played on the radio reassured listeners with optimistic, diverting content.

He described how both he, and his elders were raised in a "cult of horror," being taught to feel patriotic excitement when faced with a landscape filled with blood. Eco quotes encomiums to war from such a huge array of sources that I couldn't help but draw a parallel to what we're teaching our children about war in our culture today. Yeah, that's right, those homemade gnocchi are sometimes really, really heavy, but damn are they good.

OK so here's a link to Hazan's Bolognese from the Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking if you're inspired. I double the amount of freshly ground nutmeg and you can add porcini mushrooms. Have a few hours and want fresh gnocchi?

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Anish Kapoor: It Ain't No Fun-House Baby, It's Cool, Cool Jazz

Took the kittens into Boston today to see the exhibition Anish Kapoor: Past, Present, Future at the ICA. The show is in its final weeks (usually when we finally go), but I would recommend it highly to anyone within a three hour drive from Boston. Especially if you haven't had the chance to visit the ICA before, the experience will merit both the gas and the time spent.

I was unfamiliar with Kapoor's work until this year when a cool and brilliant friend mentioned he was one of her favorite artists. Most people in the US are familiar with his large scale public work if they've heard of him.  Kapoor's Cloud Gate in Millenium Park, Chicago has become a travel destination in its own right. The Time Magazine review  of the exhibit seemed to dismiss Cloud Gate as a giant fun-house mirror that turns people into Silly Putty. I think this diminishes the power of Kapoor's work. It was interesting, because the review of the ICA's exhibit was overall very positive, calling it "indispensable."

At the first survey of the gallery space we were struck by the lovely, undulating work entitled S-Curve, from 2006 (click here for the ICA's slideshow of all of the works). There is a playful element to the piece, but it certainly transcends the fun-house mirror. Each viewer merges with the art, transforming it through the act of viewing while the rolling curves transform the shape and perceptions of the viewer. Gradually, we noticed the other sculptures too and how their reflections interacted with each other as we moved through the space. The New York Times review of the exhibition expresses the complexity of Kapoor's work perfectly by describing how "its formal conundrums and surface pleasures open subtly to deeper forms of thought." 

The next object to captivate our attention was Brandy Wine (2007), a convex hemisphere of luminous, elemental crimson. My friend Judy pointed out that the closer you move to the sculpture, the more you feel enveloped by the top. The kittens were delighted to discover that the objects transform our perceptions of sound as well as images by amplifying and sending excited little whispers around the gallery space behind us.

As I stood in the gallery, I was reminded of Florence in 1989 when I went to hear Jazz in a tiny little club on the bank of the Arno river. We sat reverently enjoying the music but there was a group of listeners, musicians by the looks of them, who at certain junctures in the music would laugh and look at each other. Wasn't there even a comedy skit about that, and how it's perplexing for those of us who don't get the joke? After viewing Kapoor's untitled piece from 1998 I actually found myself laughing out loud and I finally felt like (albeit far geekier version) the cool jazz listener. The photo doesn't even begin to convey how the artist challenges our perceptions. I literally felt as though he was teasing us.  

One of the misfortunate consequences of creating large scale public art is that our understanding of artistic merits is affected by the culture it lives within. Cloud Gate is affectionately known as the Bean and in most reviews I read, and it was often dismissed by virtue of its popularity. Perhaps this obscures our understanding of Kapoor's other works as well. This show is no fun-house, baby. This cat thought it was cooool, cool jazz.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Proof that going green will make you hotter, younger and richer.

We in the green community (Kermit, Yoda and I) tend to think of Americans as lagging behind more enlightened nations when it comes to environmental issues. Our list of debacles and snafus goes on and on: the failure to sign the Kyoto treaty, air quality legislation leading to mbta contamination, electing he-who-shall-not-be-named to the oval office... But perhaps we're going about it the wrong way, because it's a well-known fact that we'll go for anything that makes us hotter, younger or richer.

This Italian, Buddhist, investment banker guy I used to date had the habit of spouting bogus statistics to back up random discussions we'd be having. I started to catch on when he said things like 96% of all people think going clubbing is way more fun than movies in NYC. I recently realized you could apply the same kind of bogus marketing techniques to going green so I determined to perform a little experiment on Blicky. I told him that 95% of former-models-turned-green-activists would prefer to adopt an environmentally conscious cat.

It did the trick! In just one week Blicky has stopped polishing his Hummer with whale fat and he's been using a fishing pole instead of just throwing DDT into the river. We've also been receiving returned mail that Blicky's been sending Amber Valetta, spokesperson for Oceana, a foundation set up to protect the world's oceans. So, as a result of this experiment we can conclude that convincing people that environmentalism makes them hotter, richer and thinner is 98% percent effective.

The above picture was taken from a women's fitness magazine which kindly asked Blicky to take part.
Was is for an article about:
a. How to get your dream abs and make your friends like you more with these ten easy moves?
b. How three friends went from being old and morbidly obese, to being hot, young and rich fitness instructors?
c. One of 31 tips on how to green your routine, recommending that you find planet-loving pals or get tips on green networking sites like gengreen? 

Seeing environmental issues flashing on the pages of pop media, with cutesie word play and images of the uber-hot is hard to get used to, but maybe that's the way it has to work in our culture. I have to admit, the recommendations for greener living actually seemed quite well-conceived. If everyone made just small changes maybe it would have a huge impact in a country our size. It would definitely be 75% effective in making our future seem less bleak.

Friday, August 8, 2008

Blicky Has Announced a Winner!

The staff at Blicky Kitty offered a free picture with Blicky himself for the winner of the 2008 Specious Political Email Contest, and were overwhelmed by the response. Entries flooded in from around the country and after weeks of searching a winner was selected. The winning entry possesses all of the qualities of facile rhetoric and sloppy prose we had hoped for. It has brilliant and subtle photo editing:

It uses fear and vague suggestions to inspire fear and, even better, it uses cute puppies to make its point. The cute puppy is a powerful rhetorical device first employed by the Sophists in Periclean Athens, Isocrates and then perfected by Aristotle:

Best of all our winner has included a realistic header so the email will seem to have been circulating for a while. Recognize any of the names in the email list?

------ Forwarded Message
From: Una Renard
Date: Sat, 09 Aug 2008 00:40:22 -0400
Conversation: My Vote is For Freedom
Subject: FWD: My Vote is For Freedom

Wow I don’t usually forward these things, but I can’t believe how the news media missed this one! Kitty hon, you should forward this too.


-------------- Forwarded Message: -------------- 
Sent: 8/4/2008 12:33:35 P.M. Eastern Daylight Time
Subj: My Vote is For Freedom

Wow it really makes you think! I’m really starting to think of things a little differently. PS. Pass this along to everyone you know!

Click here to request a free copy of the 2008 Specious Email Award Winner and forward it to the conservatives in your clowder. Together we can see just how far misinformation can travel!

Thursday, August 7, 2008


Over a year after everyone else has already read and processed Ayaan Hirsi Ali's memoir, Infidel, Blicky finally finished reading it. While it is not light, it is gripping and important reading for anyone in this country.

Hirsi Ali became the object of a fatwa after collaborating with Theo Van Gogh on a short film called Submission which criticizes not only Muslim culture but Islam at its source. Here's a link to the 60 Minutes segment on her. Part of the power of her prose and her rhetoric is its unflinching honesty. Her story is sometimes difficult to read, as she describes her circumcision, having her skull fractured by her Quran teacher or as she relates her forced marriage. I was uncomfortable as I read the description of her film that began a political firestorm in Holland and throughout the Muslim world. 

I have made a point of getting to know Muslims and asking questions about their faith. The issues I kept coming back to with my Muslim friends and never received a satisfactory answer for were the same ones she raises in her book; Islam's denial of basic human rights for women and homosexuals and pervasive culture of anti-semitism. People with whom I have shared meals and many hours conversations have stated plainly that homosexuals deserve to be killed, that the Holocaust never happened or insist that honor killings only occur among radical fringes of Muslim society. Men whom I have considered family friends have wives that must leave the room anytime a male enters.

Nontheless I confess I wished for a gentler conclusion while reading the life journey of this majestic and brilliant woman. I had hoped she wouldn't forsake or insult her faith and that she would be able to promote change from within the framework of her religious doctrine. But I came to realize that my need top be open-minded and to accept Islam was patronizing. Why didn't I feel the same discomfort when I read Elie Wiesel's The Trial of God or the ideas of Enlightenment thinkers like Descartes, Voltaire or John Locke? In overlooking human rights violations are we somehow holding the Muslim world to lower standards of tolerance and reason? 

But how do we reconcile Hirsi Ali's critique of her own culture with Edward Said's ideas? He wrote that "So far as the United States seems to be concerned, it is only a slight overstatement to say that Moslems and Arabs are essentially seen as either oil suppliers or potential terrorists. Very little of the detail, the human density, the passion of Arab-Moslem life has entered the awareness of even those people whose profession it is to report the Arab world. What we have instead is a series of crude, essentialized caricatures of the Islamic world presented in such a way as to make that world vulnerable to military aggression." He contended that Europeans, because of their colonial dominance have in essence "written Asia’s past and constructed its modern identities from a perspective that takes Europe as the norm, from which the 'exotic', 'inscrutable' Orient deviates. There is the danger that Ayaan Hirsi Ali's insights can be appropriated by the political right in this country to justify the war in Iraq. I know Blicky is already circulating an email that accuses Obama of beating his wife and argues that the only way to affect change in the Arab world is by " continuing to spread democracy" indefinitely in Iraq. Hirsi Ali's present job with the American Enterprise Institute, who were the primary architects of the He-Who-Shall-Not-Be-Named administration's foreign policy raises this as a distinct concern.

With our history of colonial and cultural domination we, as non-Muslims in the US, are simply not in a position to criticize Islam. If, as Ali hopes, Arab society is to undergo its own Enlightenment, the only meaningful influence must come from within Islamic culture. She has a beautiful and inspiring faith of the power of the humanities, truth and democracy to save people and societies. I hope that this new faith she has found done not leave her disillusioned and betrayed in the same way her old one did.

Friday, August 1, 2008

Wasted RAM Space

Summer is the perfect time for idle reflections about what is truly important in life. On the long, slowly winding drive up to Stowe, Vermont I began to ruminate over what we do in life and how it grows from our early memories. How would my life be different if the memories that formed it were different? More specifically, what could I be doing with all of that wasted RAM space?

Here's a list:
If I didn't waste RAM space on the fact that Charo, as April Lopez on the Love Boat really made Captain Merrill nervous when she said "cuchi-cuchi" or that Jamie Sommers became bionic after a parchute accident, then I would be able to speak Mandarin and I would be working for the UN in China.

If I didn't waste my RAM on the fact that Sly and Robbie are the premier reggae percussionists and production duo, then I would be able to remember the bloodlines of the British monarchy.

If I didn't waste RAM memorizing American Pie and Tangled Up in Blue, then I would have been able to actually retain the arguments of various postmodern theorists in my head during hours of wading through their obfuscate prose. OK actually, I think I made the proper choice there.

If I couldn't recite the entire damn script of Monty Python's Holy Grail I would have earned a perfect score on my sat's and gre's, I definitely would have solved global warming by now.

Here's a link Blicky's favorite Cat Power song that he doesn't realize is actually an eloquent and haunting protest song. I tried explaining that she's not an actual cat, but a talented human singer named Chan Marshal.  His memory's been a bit dodgy ever since plummeting off the ski lift on the way to the alpine slide in Stowe.